On the first day, Evan Spiegal created Snapchat. On the second day, Mark Zuckerberg pioneered a huge infiltration of clone after clone of the Snapchat stories feature, with every branch of the Facebook family tree miraculously adding an almost identical version of the mobile app’s features to its platforms. This copycat movement led firstly by Instagram and shortly after followed by Facebook and WhatsApp (yeah, I’d forgotten about WhatsApp stories already as well). With every social platform copying the feature, the social media marketing world watched with interest. The situation becoming such a joke, that stories instigated a meme coined ‘Will Now Have Stories’, where even a pregnancy test adopted a stories feature on its interface.
It cannot be denied that Facebook and Snapchat have a delicate and chequered history – back in 2013, Mr Zuckerberg offered Snapchat’s Spiegal a staggering $3 billion in efforts to try and buy the image-based messaging app, which to the displeasure of Zuckerberg was kindly declined. So is this blatant copying of Snapchat’s features an attempt to wipe Snapchat off the planet and make it the next Friends Reunited, Google Buzz or MySpace?
The First Assault: Instagram VS Snapchat
Prior to Facebook’s new strategy to copy Snapchat, Snapchat was consistently seeing steady growth in user rates. In fact, at the start of 2016 it was averaging at 122 million daily active users, growing by 14% from the previous quarter which you have to admit is rather quick. However, coincidence or not, when the Facebook-owned Instagram launched the first of the stories clones back in August last year, these rates slowed and Snapchat saw a growth rate of just 3.4% in the last few months of 2016. Although there is no solid evidence Instagram stories caused this, it’s highly doubtful this was not the main factor of Snapchat’s sudden decline in growth. It can hardly be a shock to many either, as Instagram already had more than double the daily users than Snapchat prior to the addition of its stories feature.
What is Facebook Stories?
Then came along the next step in Facebook’s plan – the ‘creation’ of Facebook stories. Defined as a feature that enables you to “share multiple photos and videos as part of a visual collection” which sounds remarkably similar to another social platform. The new update to Facebook also brought camera effects including masks and filters (Snapchat: tick), direct sharing between users (Snapchat: tick) and a 24-hour window to view the stories (Snapchat: tick). As the evidence shows, the features are extremely similar to those on Snapchat, with the only HUGELY distinguishable difference noted as the direction in which you have to swipe your finger to access filters.
But what Zuckerberg set out to be another assault on Spiegal, has only ended in bewilderment from its onlookers and embarrassment for Facebook, as a month later no one is using Facebook stories. This failure can be summed up by an update to the Facebook’s stories feature within just the first week, an attempt from the platform to enhance the feature and encourage users to actually use it. This new update made a minor difference, changing the design of the stories display. The update has been coined as ‘ghosts of friends’, instead of showing an empty feed lacking any use of Facebook stories; your friends are now turned into ‘ghosts’, with a greyed out icon highlighting those who are apparently not social media savvy enough to use this feature, or quite frankly (and most likely) all storied out.
What is the failure of Facebook stories down to?
So what can we actually put this failure down to, and why is it that stories work so brilliantly on Snapchat and Instagram but have failed so badly on Facebook? Unfortunately, Facebook has ignored requests for usage data (not surprising really) so we can only contemplate the reasons for this failure. People have different reasons for using each of these social media platforms in the first place, and with these come different audiences. Facebook is now the most popular social network for the over 50s a generation not usually known for wanting to share every part of their day-to-day lives on social media like millennials and generation Z.
It should also be pointed out that Instagram provides an opportunity for convenient viewing, for generation Z there is far more surveillance of online stars. Social media has become a place to follow our favourite celebrities and online influencers, and Facebook surrounds its values on keeping up to date with family members and real life friends. Furthermore, much success of stories on Instagram and Snapchat have come from the adoption of the feature from brands and businesses. However, Facebook has at launch made Facebook Stories unavailable to brands, making the rest of us social marketers to wonder why, and more recently, when we will all have to start paying for it? You know we will be doing right?
Are ‘ghosts of friends’ reflective of the end for Facebook stories?
We are unquestionably in an era where photo and video are becoming the key methods of communication, and this is something that isn’t slowing down – if anything it is speeding up following Facebook videos overtaking YouTube video views back in 2014.
People want to share every part of their day-to-day and in some ways it’s hardly surprising many social platforms are becoming homogeneous. However, each social media platform offers a different experience and difference reasons why each of us chooses to use them. The success of stories on Instagram is really a matter of convenience and the audience of those using the platform. Ultimately, the failure of Facebook stories can be put down to the simple fact that it just doesn’t work for this platform and its audience – Yet. So I make that Speigal 1: Zuckerberg 0.
However, I don’t believe for one second that this feature is going to be laid to rest just yet. I would like to personally thank our intern at Prohibition Charlotte Buckley for helping me research my theory on this issue without her I couldn’t have done this.